Dalia al-Aqidi, a Muslim refugee from Iraq, saw it as her “patriotic duty” to run as a Republican candidate to oust Democratic Rep. Ilhan Omar.
Ms. al-Aqidi said Ms. Omar, a member of “The Squad” of far-left freshman lawmakers, is widening divisions in her Minnesota district and across the country.
“As an American, and especially an immigrant and a secular Muslim, I felt it was my patriotic duty to go into this race,” she told The Washington Times.
In her job as a journalist, Ms. al-Aqidi visited the Minneapolis district repeatedly before deciding to move there full time four months ago and run for office. It was a decision inspired by the controversies surrounding Ms. Omar, she said.
Ms. Omar and her fellow Squad members — Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York, Rashida Tlaib of Michigan and Ayanna Pressley of Massachusetts — have roiled the political scene since taking office last year.
The group clashed with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, California Democrat, by pushing for the impeachment of President Trump and demanding action on the far left’s agenda, including the Green New Deal, an environmental makeover of the U.S. economy.
They also became favorite targets of Mr. Trump at campaign rallies. At an October rally in Ms. Omar’s Minnesota district, he labeled her an “America-hating socialist.”
Ms. Omar also came under fire from her own party for making anti-Semitic statements when she accused pro-Israel advocacy groups and Jewish lawmakers of having divided loyalty to Israel, a government she fiercely criticizes for, in her view, subjugating Palestinians.
Ms. al-Aqidi arrived in the U.S. in the early 1990s with the help of her friend, the late Ambassador Christopher Stevens. He was later killed in the attack on the U.S. embassy in Benghazi in 2012.
She said her status as a refugee and Muslim would level the playing field with Ms. Omar, a Somali-born refugee. But being a refugee isn’t how she would define her campaign.
“I’m not here as a refugee. I’m not here as a Muslim. I don’t want to want to represent certain people. I will represent everybody regardless of his or her race, color, sex, ethnicity and political affiliation,” she said. “Identity politics makes the debate about the important issues impossible.”
At least five other candidates are hoping to secure the Republican nomination and challenge Ms. Omar, despite her district being a solidly Democratic stronghold.
Two — Danielle Stella and George Buck — already have faced backlash for attacking the freshman congresswoman. Ms. Stella was suspended from Twitter, while Mr. Buck was reprimanded by Republican leaders for suggesting Ms. Omar should be hanged.
The Democratic congresswoman is also facing at least two Democratic primary challenges from John Mason, a veteran community organizer, and Antone Melton-Meaux, founder and CEO of Work Resolve Mediation.
Setting herself up as a conservative foil to the liberal congresswoman, Ms. al-Aqidi wants to be a voice for smaller government and stand against the liberal economic policies supported by Ms. Omar.
“I’ve met many in the Somali community who came to the U.S. for a better life and for better opportunities, and they want to have their own businesses,” she said. “They aren’t looking to live off welfare, or the policy of handouts that Ilhan Omar is doing. We’ll give you free this and we’ll give you free that.”
Ms. al-Aqidi said her top priority is national security, particularly in light of her experiences in Iraq and as a journalist who covered international affairs.
Ms. Omar has been a vocal opponent of President Trump’s efforts to crack down on illegal immigration at the border and the attack on Iranian Maj. Gen. Qassem Soleimani — but Ms. al-Aqidi fully supports both.
“The world is much safer today than before the day that Qassem Soleimani was killed,” she said.
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